When Africa Wins the World Wins

Amina J. Mohammed's profile photo
Amina J. Mohammed
UN Deputy Secretary-General

For too long, ideas about Africa have been framed through standard stereotypical tropes.

It is time to re-frame the narrative.

Beginning September 18, more than 100 leaders across all sectors will gather in New York City for two days to do exactly that.

The Global Africa Business Initiative, held on the sidelines of the 77th UN General Assembly, will offer up a different picture of the Mother Continent – one that may surprise many.

Africa’s moment has arrived, and it is time for the world to sit up and take notice.

The theme of the conference – “Unstoppable Africa” - sums up the optimism and confidence coursing through the continent. Generational change and an empowered population are set to make Africa soar.

This is not to ignore the enormous challenges that many African countries continue to face. But they are grappling with these challenges, with varying degrees of success and our full support.

Let me share with you some facts and trends that illustrate why Africa is on the move and set to play a major role in global affairs in the coming years.

Africa currently represents a 2.5 trillion-dollar market opportunity with every sector on a growth trajectory – even in the face of uncertain times and the global economic downturn.

And Africa has demonstrated extraordinary resilience in navigating the devastating days of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the challenges posed by vaccine inequity.

Faced with this failure of solidarity, Africans understood that there are moments and situations when, despite pious talk, they cannot depend on developed countries. Hence, Africa is now investing heavily in developing and manufacturing its own vaccines.

Then there is what economists call the “demographic dividend.” By 2050, one in four people on our planet will be African. This is creating a new continental identity: young, talented, creative, innovative – and able to support a booming consumer market.

This generational change is a major factor in Africa’s rise. The continent’s 21st century citizens – children of the Digital Age – come with the mindsets and tech skills that are a prerequisite for growth and prosperity in an era of rapid technological change.

Africa’s women are also actively carving new paths of economic participation and opportunity, as traditional patriarchal norms change.

They are venturing not only into small and medium-scale enterprises, but leading major business enterprises.

There is one other sector, however, where Africa needs to step up: education. The jobs and economic opportunities of the future will require both the precision of algorithms and the creativity of humans.

What we teach, how we teach and even where we teach will play a pivotal role in preparing our young generation to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Africa’s vast energy resources, its agriculture sector, food systems, creative sphere and physical and digital infrastructure are all ripe for disruption. They provide asymmetrical opportunities for savvy investors who want to build their portfolios while participating in the continent’s prosperity.

This transition must be aligned with the sustainable development agenda, encapsulated in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

The SDGs offer a holistic, comprehensive and achievable roadmap to building a more progressive, sustainable and inclusive world that turns the tide on the threats posed by the climate crisis, rising social and economic inequality, famine and war.

Africa’s transition to a “Blue-Green” economy – prioritising management of its bodies of water, the shift to renewable energy, digitally-driven agri-tech solutions to farming and responsible stewardship of the planet – will require enlightened and visionary leadership, political will, and a change in mindsets and behaviours across the continent.

Africa will embark on this major transformation in partnership with the rest of the world, opening up massive investment opportunities and providing innovative solutions.

Let me stress: this is a partnership based on trade and investment -- not aid or charity.

And the rules-based world order, built on a foundation of cooperation between countries, is crucial not just for Africa’s growth, but for the peace and prosperity of the entire world.

While African nations continue to trade and engage closely with their traditional partners, they are now looking beyond those relationships, making new friends, exploring and developing collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships aligned with the current realities of geopolitics and geoeconomics.

Africa is putting into practice the words of its old adage: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Or to put it another way, if Africa wins, the world wins.